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Microsoft Alters Controversial “Recall” Feature for AI-Powered PCs in Response to Privacy Concerns

Microsoft is adjusting a contentious feature announced for its new AI-powered PCs following widespread privacy concerns. The “Recall” feature for Copilot+ was initially designed to enhance user convenience by capturing and storing screenshots of desktop activity. However, after fears emerged about potential misuse by hackers, Microsoft has decided to make the feature opt-in.

The “Recall” Feature

Unveiled prominently at Microsoft’s developer conference in May, the “Recall” tool is part of the company’s push to leverage artificial intelligence to boost demand for its devices. Executive Vice President Yusuf Medhi, during the event’s keynote speech, described the feature as using AI to provide users with access to virtually anything they have ever seen on their PC, likening it to a photographic memory.

The tool allows users to search through their past activities, including files, photos, emails, and browsing history. While similar functionalities exist in other devices, “Recall” goes a step further by taking screenshots every few seconds and making these searchable.

Privacy Concerns and Regulatory Scrutiny

Despite Microsoft’s assurances that privacy was integral to the design of “Recall,” the feature quickly drew criticism. Concerns were raised about the potential for hackers to misuse the saved screenshots, leading to significant privacy risks. The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) began making enquiries with Microsoft after these issues were flagged.

Microsoft’s Response

In response to the outcry, Pavan Davuluri, Corporate Vice President of Windows and Devices, announced changes to the feature in a blog post on Friday. “We have heard a clear signal that we can make it easier for people to choose to enable Recall on their Copilot+ PC and improve privacy and security safeguards,” Davuluri stated.

Key updates to the “Recall” feature include:

  1. Opt-In Requirement: The feature will now be off by default. Users will have to actively opt-in during the PC setup process if they wish to enable screenshot capturing.
  2. Control Over Captured Content: Users can opt-out of capturing screenshots on specific websites or disable screenshot capturing during private browsing sessions on Microsoft’s Edge browser.
  3. Enhanced Authentication: Enabling the tool will require users to go through Windows’ “Hello” authentication process. Additionally, “proof of presence” will be necessary to view or search through the timeline of saved activity.

Implementation Timeline

These updates are set to be implemented before the launch of Copilot+ PCs on June 18. Microsoft hopes these changes will address privacy concerns while still providing the convenience and enhanced functionality promised by the “Recall” feature.

Microsoft’s decision to revise the “Recall” feature underscores the company’s commitment to balancing technological innovation with user privacy. By making the feature opt-in and enhancing security measures, Microsoft aims to allay fears and provide a safer, more user-friendly experience for its customers.

References

For further information, you can visit Microsoft’s official blog and the ICO’s website. These sources provide comprehensive details on the privacy concerns and regulatory responses related to the “Recall” feature.

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